Who was Harold Russell?
Harold Russell was the only actor to win two Oscars for the same role. He also caused controversy by selling one of the statuettes.
And despite winning two Oscars, he wasn’t a professional actor. But his story is much more interesting than that.
If you look closely at the photograph on the left you’ll see why.
Harold Russell had no hands
He had been born in Canada and when he was a boy, his family moved to the United States.
After the Pearl Harbour attacks, he enlisted in the US Army becoming a paratrooper and a demolition expert, working with explosives.
And it was whilst the D-Day landings were taking place that Harold was back in America instructing a demolition class.
A faulty detonator caused the explosives he was carrying to explode
His hands were amputated. He was given two choices. The hospital could fit plastic hands – far more primitive than the artificial limbs we have today – or metal hooks.
Harold chose the hooks.
He became marvellously skilled at using them. So much so that the army realised that he could provide great inspiration for other similarly injured servicemen and recruited him to take part in a training film.
You can see it below.
Director William Wyler saw the training film and decided to employ Russell to act in The Best Years of Our Lives, which was made in 1946. It was about servicemen who had been in the Second World War and what it was like for them returning to civilian life.
You can see a clip below.
The film was a huge success and collected a total of eight Oscars. During the Oscars ceremony in 1947 he received a special honorary Oscar for being such an inspiration to other wounded servicemen. But later in the awards ceremony, he also received the Oscar for best supporting actor.
He did further acting work in the years to come but as he remarked, with a twinkle in this eye,there weren’t too many parts for a guy with no hands.
His real work was working to improve the lot of ex-service people
From 1950 onwards, Oscar recipients were asked to sign an agreement that they would not sell their awards.If an actor didn’t want his or her award for whatever reason, they had to be returned to the academy – they could not be sold for financial gain.
In 1992 Harold Russell came under fire when he sold his Oscar. He received it prior to 1950 so was not bound by the agreement. Nevertheless, the academy tried to persuade him otherwise. He refused because he needed the money to pay for health care for his wife.
He remarked ‘I don’t know why anybody would be critical. My wife’s health is much more important than sentimental reasons. The movie will be here, even if Oscar isn’t’.
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